What connects football superstar Lionel Messi, A-lister George Clooney and TV personality Chloe Madeley? No, it’s not the surprise line-up for the next celebrity reality TV series, but they are all patrons of Crans-Montana – the Swiss ski resort that is making a remarkable comeback after falling into obscurity.
After its heyday in the 1980s, the French-speaking city never enjoyed the same recognition as its world-famous cousins from Valais, Verbier and Zermatt, but Crans-Montana is having another moment as the continued visits of Hollywood stars like Justin Timberlake and world-famous sports stars like Rory McIlroy can testify.
Days before my arrival in December, US ski industry giant Vail Resorts announced it had purchased the resort’s ski infrastructure for a whopping $136 million. While many have cried out in horror at the Americanization of the Alps, I can’t say the news that Vail sees so much value in this has surprised me. I’ve been visiting since 2017, after it was introduced to me as a relaxing resort that bridges two mountain villages on the right bank of the Rhône Valley, nestled amid 140 kilometers of sun-drenched, fully south-facing slopes.
A forgotten history
“The world’s first downhill ski race was held in Crans-Montana in 1911 – people often forget that,” says Pierre-Henri Mainetti, the resort’s head of sales and marketing. Before Verbier hosted the Freeride World Tour or Zermatt World Cup races, a group of Englishmen ran the Kandahar Challenge Cup, named after British General Lord Roberts, from the top of the Plaine Morte Glacier at 3,000 metres, which Crans -Montana gives it its good qualities. snow record.
The resort became a meeting place for the rich, famous and royal in the 1980s. British actor Roger Moore owned a chalet here and stars from U2’s Bono to Alain Delon were visitors – later the Duchess of Edinburgh (Sophie Rhys-Jones) played a season here. But it suffered when the exchange rate against the Swiss Franc became unpalatable and British tour operators withdrew to focus on cheaper resorts in the region.
Five star addresses
I’ve been there several times in recent years, and as Vail Resorts prepares to invest – promising an additional $35 million in investment over the next five years – there is anticipation in the air that prosperous times will return. This season the latest five-star sign can be seen with the opening of the Six Senses hotel.
Fresh December snow, glowing white in the midday sun, was swallowed up by the enveloping, exclusive darkness of the hotel’s subterranean entrance, as I was thrust into the crucible of a luxurious transformation ten years in the making. The global luxury brand handpicked this lesser-known resort for its first foray into ski hotels, and from the mid-century lobby style to the saxophone-led après-ski, the modern atmosphere is perfectly suited to upscale ski chic. .
After a full-body massage and an aromatic sauna washed away any feelings of fatigue, I praised Six Senses’ combination of high-quality service with an informal atmosphere to the hotel’s marketing boss, Titiana Mahieu. “We strive to provide an exclusive experience for our guests, but we also want you to feel comfortable with us,” she replied. It’s a statement that could also explain Crans-Montana as a destination that combines a sunny attitude with a resolutely high-end offering.
Other luxury openings this year include Hyatt Unbound Collection’s five-star Rhodania hotel and La Ferme Sainte-Amour dining and entertainment experience, known for Courchevel and Megève. Part of the catalyst for change here is developers who have taken advantage of the local land price being half that of Verbier. The popular Le Régent International School has given the very wealthy an excuse to work remotely from a ski resort while their children board nearby.
Pristine slopes and fine dining
The next morning conditions were bluebird, with excellent visibility – the resort basks in 300 days of sunshine a year. I made the most of it (and suffered serious leg burns) by riding the gondola network to the top of the ski area before descending 1,500 meters vertically to one of the four base stations.
Although the skiing, in the four sectors of Crans, Montana, Barzettes-Violettes and Aminona, may not include many gnarly black runs, once you’ve spent some time here, the tourist office has labeled it a ‘family destination’ – in honor of the extensive practice slopes – looks a bit like a dovecote.
I stopped for a refreshing lunch of champagne and flank steak at 2,000 meters on the sun terrace of Chertzeron, a luxury hotel converted from the old lift station in 2014 (the restaurant opened in 2009). I was amazed by the view of the high mountains – overlooking Crans-Montana across a snow-covered horizon, an identity parade of famous, towering 4,000-metre peaks marches from the Weisshorn to the Matterhorn. The high alpine sky was so clear that I could see Mont Blanc.
I recalled a similar surprise on another visit, when I had the opportunity to splitboard to a mountain hut at nightfall. We dined on handmade raclette before driving back down under the light of headlamps. Seeing the glittering villages of Crans-sur-Sierre and Montana stretching across the wide plateau at 1,400 meters highlighted not only the scale of development here, but also its character. Brand new five-star hotels are tastefully folded into evergreens, spreading their light like diamonds sparkling in front of a cozy alpine fire.
Top quality variety
This winter in Crans-Montana I heard more British voices than ever before, reflected in the UK making up 12.6 percent of overnight visitors – the third largest cohort in the city. Michael Palmer from Plymouth told me: “I’ve never been here before but the food and drink are great and everything is immaculate. I’ve been surprised by how chatty everyone is, and it hasn’t been spoiled by an endless stream of package holiday crowds – the dynamic lift ticket prices have also been a revelation.”
This is not a euphemism to mislead the masses, but rather a really useful way to take advantage of lower prices during quieter weeks, even in high season. While the busier Swiss resorts can feel truly unaffordable, Crans-Montana manages to deliver luxury at a price that won’t make you wince.
As I leaned back in my chair and drank in the Alpine panorama across the Rhône Valley, the delicately honeyed flavor of Petite Arvine – grown in 17 vineyards spread across the 2,000-metre vertical terrain from Crans-Montana to Sierra – lifted me up into the high cobalt blue hills. heaven above those crisp, snowy peaks, where my aching legs from a day on the slopes were completely forgotten… With more than 125 years of stylish development under our belt, and new interest from property developers and tech entrepreneurs, the future looks bright for Crans-Montana.
How to get there
Fly to Geneva with Swiss Air (flights from €140 return) and then take the train straight from the airport to Sierre, where a revamped, 12-minute cable car leaves three times an hour to the resort’s station, Montana Gare. More information can be found at crans-montana.ch.
Where to stay
Six Senses offers Crans-Montana’s only ski-in/ski-out five-star hotel experience. The hotel has two restaurants, a spa and its own ski shop. A doubles costs from £780 pp/pn.